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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Protected Bike Lanes, Pedestrian Improvements Proposed For Augusta Boulevard In Ukrainian Village And West Town

The lanes would run between Milwaukee and Western avenues. The plan would also shorten pedestrian crosswalks and lower speed limits on that stretch of Augusta.

CDOT Safe Routes Ambassadors Liz Solis and Shameka Turner hand bike maps to a cyclist during a bike safety event regarding a proposed upgrade to the bike lane on Augusta Boulevard on June 8, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — The Chicago Department of Transportation is planning to add protected bike lanes to a stretch of Augusta Boulevard in Ukrainian Village and West Town.

The bike lanes would run from Milwaukee Avenue to Western Avenue, and be separated from parking and car traffic by concrete curbs, according to plans provided by CDOT.

Under the proposal, the bike lanes would be installed next to the sidewalk on either side of the street, with parking moved inside the bike lanes next to car traffic.

The plan would keep most of the existing parking along Augusta, CDOT’s complete streets manager Dave Smith said Wednesday at a bike safety meeting co-hosted with Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) at Columbus Elementary School, 1003 N. Leavitt St.

The proposal would also overhaul intersections along Augusta by shortening crosswalks for pedestrians and adding green painted bike markings through each crossing. The speed limit on that stretch of Augusta would also be reduced to 20 miles per hour.

“Augusta is a really important bike route in the network. … Milwaukee’s the busiest street for biking in the city, so it’s a great connection,” Smith said. “Lowering the posted speed limit, protected bike lanes, pedestrian improvements, all of that will really result in a slower street, more accessible street, safer street.”

Credit: Provided
A proposal by the Chicago Department of Transportation to install curb-protected bike lanes on Augusta Boulevard between Western Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue

At busier intersections like at Damen Avenue, the current version of the plan would install no turn on red signs and what are known as bike boxes, which give cyclists more room and visibility while waiting for the light to change, CDOT bike planner Brad Huff said.

“[Where] bikes are going to be in front of cars, it’s all about increasing visibility, just giving bikes a little more space,” he said.

The proposal is still in the planning phase, and CDOT officials said they’ll take neighborhood feedback into account before finalizing the project. Even so, Smith said he’s optimistic the lanes and other changes could be installed later this year.

Neighbors who attended Wednesday’s meeting were generally supportive of the project, while a few raised concerns the new street plan would increase congestion along Augusta, especially around schools during pick-up and drop-off times.

Ukrainian Village resident and cyclist Josh Mark said he often avoids biking on Augusta, instead using a patchwork of residential streets where he feels safer.

He said the proposal outlined Wednesday is “exactly what he’s looking for,” and would allow him to start biking on the boulevard.

“At the end of the day, this boils down to safety and literal lives, not to mention convenience, because that is a reality as well,” he said.

Mark also praised the plan’s approach to intersections along the route.

“CDOT has a tendency of disappearing bike lanes as you get close to the traffic lights to make way for right turn lanes and I’m really heartened to see they’re not doing that here,” he said.

From 2016-2020, almost 450 crashes have occurred on Augusta between Western and Milwaukee, according to CDOT data presented at the meeting.

That includes 16 people injured while walking, and 15 injured while biking.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Residents learn about a proposed upgrade to the bike lane on Augusta Boulevard during a bike safety event at Columbus Elementary on June 8, 2022.

Humboldt Park resident Stephanie Reid also supports the proposal. Her only concern is making sure CDOT plows and maintains the bike lane in the winter.

“Historically, they haven’t done a great job of plowing the bike lanes in the winter and that kind of renders them useless. But as long as the lanes are properly maintained, I think it’s such a great idea,” she said.

Reid said she commutes to work via bike, and frequently rides around the city with her 11-year-old daughter. She usually avoids Augusta, but said the protected lanes would change that.

“It would make me feel so much safer to have some protected bike lanes. And this is my main route. I live right off of Augusta, commuting to Streeterville, so Augusta to Milwaukee, it’s a great route,” she said.

Hopkins, who rode his bike to the event, also voiced support for the project.

He said maintenance of bike lanes is key to their success, and pointed to the lane on Elston Avenue as one that is frequently damaged, leading to literal roadblocks for both cyclists and drivers.

“So we have to reassure the residents that we won’t allow that to happen here, that it’ll be maintained properly and any damage from collisions will be corrected quickly. And we’ll try to make it attractive,” he said.

A few neighbors at Wednesday’s event raised concerns about traffic buildup because of the plan, especially around schools like Columbus during pick-up and drop-off times, when parents often double park in the bike lane.

Frida Morales lives around the corner from Columbus, and said congestion is a regular problem outside the school. She’s against the bike lane proposal and would instead like to see additional stop signs or a speed camera installed to slow traffic.

But CDOT officials said the protected bike lane would actually help curb double parking, by giving both drivers and cyclists clear instructions about where they should be.

“Double parking is illegal, whether it’s in a bike lane or a travel lane. What we see throughout the city is that generally people are more hesitant to actively block a [lane] traveling with cars than they are a bike lane. So we think this design is going to cut that,” Huff said.

Smith said CDOT is working with schools and local aldermen to identify ways to increase drop-off space and mitigate double parking issues.

Columbus Elementary principal Wendy Oleksy also spoke in favor of plan, saying it would bring clarity the often hectic pick-up and drop-off scenes outside her school.

“I’m hoping that with all the changes they’re proposing, not just the bike lane but the 20 mile per hour thing, that it’ll be safer, and we won’t have to wait for a tragedy to happen before we fix it,” Oleksy said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A car drives into the to the bike lane briefly to avoid a turning vehicle on Augusta Boulevard on June 8, 2022.

The Augusta plan joins several other bike lane projects either underway or proposed for the greater West Town area.

This summer, CDOT is planning to paint unprotected bike lanes on Erie Street between Damen Avenue and Noble Street in West Town, while also reducing car speed limits on the stretch.

The Erie Street lanes will intersect with the existing Wood Street greenway, a city-designated bike route that’s long been a popular option for cyclists looking to cut through West Town and Wicker Park.

In January, Ald Daniel La Spata (1st) submitted a proposal to CDOT to install protected bike lanes along a stretch of Wood Street.

Approved through the 1st Ward’s participatory budgeting process, the proposal would turn Wood from Grand Avenue to Ellen Street into a northbound one-way to accommodate the bike lanes.

But some neighbors have criticized the plan, which would create three one-ways in row: Honore Street, Wood Street and Hermitage Avenue. Others have praised the proposal, saying it would make biking and driving safer along Wood Street.

Officials have not provided updates on the project’s status since it was proposed earlier this year. Smith said the proposal was still under evaluation.

At Wednesday’s meeting, neighbors Nora Bonifas and Nick Jackson said they’re optimistic about the Augusta Boulevard plan, and hope CDOT will follow through on its implementation. As cycling has exploded in popularity during the pandemic, they both stressed how vital safe biking infrastructure is for the city.

“Think about what that means for the population of Chicago, on top of the record breaking deaths that we’ve had, both pedestrian and cyclist. This is important. You can’t deny it anymore,” Bonifas said.

Additional questions or feedback on the Augusta bike lane proposal can be emailed to cdotbikes@cityofchicago.org.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) arrives on bicycle during a bike safety event regarding a proposed upgrade to the bike lane on Augusta Boulevard on June 8, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) speaks to residents during a bike safety event regarding a proposed upgrade to the bike lane on Augusta Boulevard on June 8, 2022.

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